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Above: Stray cattle moving on roads is a likely cause of most road accidents/Photo: UNI

As rampaging and hungry cattle invade fields and roads, the UP government has asked DMs to rope in corporates to run cow shelters as part of their CSR activities

By Atul Chandra in Lucknow

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has been unable to come up with a credible cow policy to ensure that the bovine animal becomes less of a nuisance than it is now for farmers and the common man. After persistent complaints of stray cows and bulls eating crops, blocking traffic and causing accidents, the state government asked the district magistrates (DMs) to explore the possibility of corporate houses running cow shelters as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR). The DMs were earlier asked to take action against those letting out their cattle on the streets.

“Stray cattle sometimes become a reason for road accidents in urban areas. They also destroy crops in rural areas and can create law and order issues. All DMs should, therefore, take necessary action so that such issues do not happen,” Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath told DMs through video-conferencing. The DMs were also told to take the help of traders, people’s representatives and businessmen in running cow shelters and to ensure proper fencing at these shelters and arrangements for their feed and veterinary care. On the punitive side, the DMs were told to penalise those who come to claim their cows after abandoning them. These instructions followed a series of incidents in which angry farmers locked up stray cattle in government schools and hospitals in the past.

The state has over 100 cattle pounds (a place where stray livestock are kept in dedicated enclosures until claimed by their owners or sold) and there are plans to construct another 68. There are 59 cow shelters run by the government and 120 run by NGOs with government aid. The government has also sanctioned Rs 10 crore for every municipal corporation to build cattle shelters and Rs 1.2 crore for every DM for cattle protection.

A report in a mainstream paper put the cattle population in UP as per the 2012 census at 1.9 crore of which 10 lakh are rendered surplus annually.

The report said that existing and proposed cow shelters can take in only 6-7 lakh cattle and that the cost of feeding them would come to around Rs 2,190 crore per year.

Having first announced in 2017 that taking care of the bovine population will come under CSR, besides an allocation of Rs 20,000 crore in the state budget, the government announced that a Gau Kalyan Shulk (cow welfare cess) of 0.5 percent would be levied on excise items.

Despite all the financial allocation, cows can still be seen roaming the streets and invading farms, though some DMs have started following Adityanath’s orders. The state government had earlier decided that upkeep of cattle in UP will also be a responsibility of private and public sector enterprises.

“It is not mandatory but they will be persuaded to chip in by setting up cow dung-based gas plants or units that can utilise cow urine, etc, for making products for domestic use,” said Rajeev Gupta, chairman of UP Gau Seva Aayog, to India Legal. A retired IAS officer, Gupta was brought on board, but later sacked.

A meeting chaired by Adityanath on August 30, 2017 said that companies should be involved through CSR to take up the responsibility of promoting “panchgavya” (products based on cow dung, urine, milk, curd and ghee). The meeting decided that the central government be requested to give tax relief to companies, institutions and organisations which gave for the upkeep of cattle. It also decided that MPs and MLAs be requested to visit “govansh vihar” and gaushalas and contribute towards their maintenance from their local area development funds. The Jhansi division commissioner has been asked to get in touch with Ayurvedic pharma company Baidyanath regarding uses of cow urine.

The meeting decided that cow protection committees headed by DMs be set up at the district level. These committees will work under the supervision of Gau Seva Ayog. They will be required to ensure smooth functioning of gaushalas at the district level and help them achieve self-reliance by assisting them in promoting cow-based products like compost, biogas, mosquito repellent coils, soap, incense sticks, and gonyl (phenyl made from cow urine).

It was decided that a beginning be made by establishing “govansh van vihar” (cattle forest areas) in every district of Bundelkhand, each capable of providing feed for about 1,000 stray cattle. The divisional commissioner of Bundelkhand was expected to ensure sheds, godowns for fodder and drinking water points in gaushalas.

Gupta said a Kanpur-based company was utilising 120 tonnes of cow dung daily to produce CNG and supply it to different units. The revenue generated is used for maintaining gaushalas. It not only helps animals but also provides livelihood and helps development of local areas, he said. Some of India’s big corporate houses have already made contributions to gaushalas a part of their CSR, he said. These included the Tatas and pharma biggie Alembic.

With bovines being central to the RSS’s and BJP’s political agenda, the UP government seems to have copied the template prepared by the Gujarat and Rajasthan governments. Rajasthan also has made the upkeep of cows and its family part of CSR activities.

In 2012, for the first time, information regarding stray cattle was collected by the 19th all-India census of livestock population. “The information was collected from a single source in the village/ward such as the sarpanch/a panchayat member/patwari/teacher or other knowledgeable person,” said RK Yadav, professor in the department of genetics and plant breeding at the prestigious Chandra Shekhar Azad University of Agriculture and Technology at Kanpur. The census put the total bovine population in UP at 5,01,82,401, out of which stray cattle population was 10,09,436. As the data was released six years ago, there is a possibility of the numbers having risen.

Writing about the menace of stray cattle in the districts of Bundelkhand, Yadav said: “The stray cattle menace is not new but the situation has been aggravated of late, particularly after some outfits started a violent movement against slaughterhouses and killing of cattle. Consequently, there has been a marked increase in the number of stray cattle on one hand and on the other the leather industry is facing shortage of raw material.”

He said: “The Animal Husbandry Department of the Uttar Pradesh government has launched a scheme to castrate young calves and put identification marks on their ears but it has not been very successful in containing the stray cattle menace. The number of abandoned and unproductive animals is increasing with each passing day.” Yadav further writes: “Increasing menace of stray cattle is giving sleepless nights to the farmers of the Bundelkhand region, famous as the pulse bowl of the country.”

These rampaging herds virtually run over standing crops, causing huge losses to farmers. Despite their best efforts, the farmers, who are keeping a round-the-clock vigil on their fields to keep the unwanted animals at bay, are not able to protect the crops. Small and marginal farmers are bearing the brunt of the stray cattle menace.

According to Sushil Kumar, programme coordinator at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Mahoba: “There are 200-400 such animals in a herd. Wherever they go, they cause destruction.” Mahoba’s chief veterinary officer conceded that there were no official figures on stray cattle but “locals put it at over 50,000 in Mahoba alone”.

Spread over 13 districts of UP and MP, the Bundelkhand region accounts for 19 percent of the total production of lentils. Apart from damage to crops, the stray cattle is becoming a big nuisance for motorists. Night journeys by road in Bundelkhand are not safe as stray cattle can suddenly appear on highways and cause an accident.

Marginal and sub-marginal farmers are largely dependent on milch cattle for livelihood as their small land holdings are economically unviable. However, they are not keen to maintain unproductive cattle and mostly abandon them as soon as they stop giving milk. As a result, more and more livestock end up as stray cattle.

Earlier, there was a tradition of “Annapratha” which was popular in Bundelkhand. Here, farmers left their animals at specifically earmarked fields close to natural sources of water like rivers and ponds. The villagers collectively fulfilled their requirement of feed and also intentionally kept their fields fallow during the Zaid season (summer) in the area. However, this tradition is no longer followed and nobody is bothered about herds of unproductive animals. There is no fodder for them and if there is a drought, a heat wave or other unfavourable weather conditions, many of the animals, particularly calves, die.

In addition, the economy has been hit by fear of cow vigilantes. Scavenging communities have shunned their jobs for fear that they could be accused of killing or smuggling cows.

It is obvious that cow politics is more than anyone can handle.

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